Definition of ergative in US English:



  • 1Relating to or denoting a case of nouns (in some languages, e.g., Basque and Eskimo) that identifies the subject of a transitive verb and is different from the case that identifies the subject of an intransitive verb.

    • ‘But the ergative subject is the subject and comes first.’
    • ‘In Kalaallisut (Greenlandic) for example the ergative case is used to mark subjects of transitive verbs and possessors of nouns.’
    • ‘In the past tense configuration, however, the Pashto agreement system is ergative: the Agreement is verb - subject agreement with intransitives, but verb - object agreement with transitives.’
    1. 1.1 (in English) denoting verbs which can be used both transitively and intransitively to describe the same action, with the object in the former case being the subject in the latter, as in I boiled the kettle and the kettle boiled.
      Compare with inchoative
      • ‘An ergative system is one in which the subject of an intransitive verb is treated grammatically like the direct object of a transitive verb, while the subject of a transitive verb is treated differently.’
      • ‘Given the same function condition, stated above, the non-pivot ergative noun phrase of the second clause cannot be omitted under coreference with the pivot noun phrase of the first clause, hence its ungrammaticality.’
      • ‘Two main linguistic features are analysed: the expression of causativity in ergative constructions and the expression of modality in’ projecting’ that clauses.’


  • 1An ergative word.

    • ‘Based on the traditional assumption that the ergative construction is the underlying construction and the ergative is the subject, the passive can be described as follows.’
    • ‘In this language, the ergative is simply the oblique stem of the noun.’
    1. 1.1the ergative The ergative case.
      • ‘The other case, the ergative, is used for the agent.’
      • ‘Like the other case-marking postpositions in this language, the ergative is encliticised to the first word of the noun phrase.’


1950s: from Greek ergatēs ‘worker’ (from ergon ‘work’) + -ive.